Don McArt was a genial co-host and frequent star at Jan McArt’s Royal Palm Dinner Theatre in Boca Raton, Fla., for 11 years. His long-term acting career began on Broadway with George Abbott’s Kiss and Tell. He also enjoyed a full career in television dating from a 1956 appearance in Alfred Hitchcock Presents, as well as a movie career under Disney contract that included a comic role as a football player in Son of Flubber. In addition to being a popular motivational speaker, McArt spent the last four years on a U.S. and Canadian tour of the critically acclaimed one-man show, Say Goodnight Gracie, as George Burns. He was scheduled to appear this coming January once again with sister Jan McArt in her Play Reading Series presentation of Back Stage Story by playwright Tony Finstrom at the Wold Performing Arts Center on the Lynn University campus in Boca Raton, Fla.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, McArt spent many of his growing years in Anderson, Ind., a small General Motors town north of Indianapolis, Ind. His mother was a talented musician and homemaker and his father an engineer for General Motors. Working his way through college with Don McArt’s Dance Band, McArt received his bachelor’s in business from Indiana University, where he played bass drum in the famed Marching 100 IU Band, was president of his senior class, as well as president on the board of the Aeons. After school, McArt became a newscaster/disc jockey at NBC affiliate WEOA in Evansville, Ind., before venturing to New York, where he attracted the attention of legendary stage director George Abbott. McArt began his long time acting career when Abbot engaged McArt for his first Broadway role in Kiss and Tell. He continued to perform in the Broadway and national companies of Pajama Tops, Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple and There’s A Girl In My Soup with Don Ameche, Dana Andrews, Virginia Mayo, John Agar, Jean Paul Belmondo, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Margaret O’Brien, June Wilkinson and Patty McCormick, among others.
Migrating to Hollywood, Calif., McArt was soon under contract to The Disney Studios, where he was featured in The Absent Minded Professor and The Son of Flubber—both with Fred MacMurray—followed by various other films, including Two Much with Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith. Over the years, McArt also produced and directed at different Hollywood theatres; wrote for radio; was a television producer at NBC and was seen on various commercials for State Farm, Chevrolet, Hamm’s Beer, Allied Van Lines and others. All the while, McArt continued to appear on television shows, commercials and on stage with occasional appearances in Las Vegas. The range of his abilities was shown in the wide variety of television shows he starred in with such stars as Shirley Temple, Goucho Marx, Ray Golger, Gale Storm, Robert Taylor, Chill Wills, JoAnne Worley, Dwayne Hickman, Jackie Coogan and Peter Lorre. With Caroline Jones and Jon Austin, he was seen as one of the hair “Cousin” characters on The Adams Family.
A popular motivational speaker around the country, McArt became interested in and assisted Dr. Ernest Holmes, who founded the Science of Mind Centers headquartered in Los Angeles, Calif. McArt often joked that he and Dr. Holmes felt an immediate affinity due to their mutually protruding ears and small stature, making them easily recognizable and adding a gentle charm to their speaking engagements. Over a period of time McArt completed all the training qualifying him to be a minister, although he had no intention of doing so at the time. He was awarded his D.D. (doctor of divinity) degree in 1974 and spent two years assisting a minister in California while pursuing his acting career, after which he decided to take on the responsibilities of his own church, becoming minister of the Science of Mind Center, Church of Religious Science in Whittier, Calif., for the next 17 years.
McArt moved from Los Angeles, Calif. to Boca Raton, Fla., in 1990 to star once again in sister Jan McArt’s Miami and Key West Theatres in Sugar Babies. McArt had shared her stage playing Frosh in two performances of The Merry Widow, one of which was the 1977 grand opening of Jan McArt’s Royal Palm Dinner Theatre in Boca Raton, Fla. A popular comedy character actor in many productions at the Royal Palm Dinner Theatre, McArt received a Carbonell award nomination from the South Florida Drama Critics for his performance in Finian’s Rainbow. In addition, he received various awards in recognition of his comedy appearances in a long series of popular Broadway musicals. His final appearance with them was in Some Like It Hot in 2001.
The published author of The Mental Makeover: Kiss Your ‘Buts” Goodbye, McArt was an enthusiastic “antique car nut” who was a proud member of the Model A Club and enjoyed nothing more than driving his 1931 Model A Ford roadster whenever time permitted. His national tour with Say Goodnight Gracie kept him busy the past four years, something McArt loved. “You could call me an Irish version of George Burns,” McArt had joked. “I relate a lot to the struggles George Burns has early in his career, because I’ve had plenty of my own. I feel honored that I have been approved to play the role. It’s much better than retirement.”
Don McArt is survived by brother Dr. Bruce (Katie) McArt of Elkhart, Ind.; sister Jan McArt of Boca Raton, Fla.; nieces Deborah Lahr (John) Lawlor of Boca Raton, Fla. and Kristin McArt (Al) Genske of Sobbieski, Wisc.; nephews Kevin (Heidi) McArt of Elkhart, Ind. and Scott McArt of Houston, Tex. and David (Rita) McArt of Green Bay, Wisc.; grandnieces Katharine Lawlor of New York, N.Y. and Madison McArt of Elkhart, Ind. and Brooklyn McArt of Elkhart, Ind.; grandnephews Evan Lawlor of Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. and Austin McArt of Elkhart, Ind. and Grant McArt of Colorado and Adam McArt of Milwaukee, Wisc.
A celebration of his life and memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. on Friday, December 28, 2012, at the Keith C. and Elaine Johnson Wold Performing Arts Center on the campus of Lynn University, 3601 N. Military Trail, Boca Raton, Fla. Dr. Barbara Lunde will preside. In lieu of flowers or visits at this time, the McArt family would be honored if you would make a donation to your favorite charity in honor of Don “Bunny” McArt.